In early 2019, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam proposed the Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill, commonly called the extradition bill. The bill legalized the deportation of fugitives from Hong Kong to Taiwan, Macau, and, importantly, mainland China. On June 9, over half a million Hong Kong citizens, many under the age of 29, rallied against the proposed extradition bill, claiming that the legislation would restrict Hong Kong’s already fading autonomy. The aggression of protests escalated over time, growing from peaceful marches to violent warfare between citizens and the police force.
Though the initial impetus was the extradition bill, what has fueled this protest four months after its inception is the fact that the youth of Hong Kong feel powerless and fear for their future. Hong Kong’s vast social disparity and relative immobility make the future seem bleak and stale. The shadow of Beijing looms larger and larger as 2047 approaches, when the one country two systems policy—which guarantees Hong Kong’s more liberal and democratic rights—will be nullified and Hong Kong will be integrated into the mainland. This kind of hopelessness permeates the rhetoric of the Hong Kong protesters, some as young as 11 or 12 years old. These individuals take to the streets to brazenly face increasingly harsh consequences perpetrated by police forces. The first live ammunition fired, in addition to the teargas and water cannons used at the China Day rally at the beginning of this month, sharply established the stakes of continued protests and the risk that the protesters face.
However, their methods of protesting are not always agreeable. Unlike the suffrage parades that sparked the feminist movement of the early 20th century, Hongkongers have hurled burning Molotov Cocktails at police, set businesses affiliated with the mainland on fire, and mobbed people who have stood up to engage in intellectual discourse. Everytime I see the graffitied walls screaming violent messages, I can’t help but think that some of their more extreme actions have only helped mainland China in their efforts to label all Hongkonese people as terrorists. As we witness the increase in violence and hateful rhetoric by both protestors and their opposition, we have to ask ourselves the lengths we consider acceptable for people to go when fighting for their rights.
As students growing up in an age of youth-driven activism, we should also reckon with the reality that in the United States, we often have a somewhat idealist and glorified interpretation of freedom. When peaceful demonstration gives way to violence, and when the lines between victim and perpetrator become blurred, there is no room for reductionistic narratives of good versus evil, however more admissible those narratives may seem. This event will be the defining story of our generation, and taking a one-sided stance will only further tangle the complex web of tensions between the two places.
Unfortunately, there is a reason why I believe that the CCP will continue to lurk in the shadows: this stalemate, if it drags on, will only serve to benefit Beijing. As hundreds of Hong Kong local businesses close their doors, and their economy, real estate prices, and tourism industry plummets, the only one who would snag this opportunity to rescue them from this economic downturn would be the mainland. And in so doing, China will have proved one thing: that the one country two systems policy is a calamity. They will emerge victorious, the hero that has once again saved the motherland from destruction in the eyes of mainlanders and their allies, further lending credence to their authority. In truth, a vibrant Hong Kong would be the best testament against the authority of the iron fist, and the violence it has descended into now would only be to the glee of Xi and his politburo.